How would you define Occupy ?
Hah. “It’s complicated.” A contemporary example of highly visible collective action, online and in urban spaces, a great gathering of people from many different backgrounds and with a wide range of shared and divergent concerns… In my experience, Occupy London was also a very successful training ground for horizontal organisation. At Occupy, many people were able to experience emergent forms of organisation for the first time in their lives. It’s one thing to rationally understand what it means, it’s an entirely different thing to experience it.
What were you doing before Occupy ?
I had just quit my job and returned to university. As a graduate student, suddenly I had a lot of time for extracurricular activities… very fortunate timing.
Why did you participate in Occupy?
I thought it would be an opportunity to experience first-hand how large numbers of people could coordinate activities in an emergent manner, without having to fall back on conventional methods of organising. I had experienced a fair amount of that in online settings, and was curious how networked structures might play out on the ground. I didn’t consider myself much of a political activist at the time, however wanted to be there as a supporter. I felt Occupy was a timely and much-needed expression of a public political sentiment.
Did Occupy change the ways you think, feel and interact with the world? If yes, how so? What do you feel that you learned (or unlearned) that was unique to Occupy?
Occupy London had a massive impact on my thinking. I learned theory and practice that I still apply in my work and personal life. From Ostrom to Castells, facilitation practices and group dynamics, the coordination challenges inherent in massively multi-modal communication. The challenge of building spaces that are both inclusive and equitable — which comes with so many tensions. The facilitator’s paradox: trying to support an egalitarian and democratic group process, but inevitably becoming an actor yourself, exercising a kind of power. Maybe most of all, the kind of magic that arises when a large number of people come together in an honest effort to make a difference, led by their own motivations and desires, and not because their boss told them to.
I also learned much about the constraints of the setting. The Occupy London camps had as many low moments as they had peaks. In later weeks they became a source of conflict and suffering. In part this happened in ways that could have been anticipated, and that participants in any new movement should be mindful of. In the long run, it is hard to maintain safe spaces in an informal setting, without clear and enforced boundaries. I learned much about the importance of physical boundaries, which is another paradox for an inclusive space… sharing ideas is easy, it’s much harder to share resources such as space, time, funds, attention. (Back to Ostrom.) And the challenge of letting go… how should a movement respond when people start burning out and leave?
I also acquired much respect for the vast distance between one’s individual sentiment on one hand, and political action at national scale on the other. The many small acts that are required to make change happen. I now believe in the importance of building associations and organisations, as well as social movements. Many key support structures and practices at Occupy London came out of such organisations, and out of prior protest movements. Social change takes time and patience. “Caminamos lento porque vamos lejos”. (We walk slow because we go far).
Before Occupy, were you involved in activities related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy? (Activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, volunteering, research, etc)
Are you still involved in activities related to the reasons why you participated in Occupy? (Activist groups, campaign groups, media platforms, volunteering, research, etc)
Are you still actively working or engaged with people that you met through Occupy?
What kind of activities are you doing together?
Socials, discussion groups, research, …